Baylor MBA students get hands-on consulting experience with AA.com

Baylor MBA students get hands-on consulting experience with AA.com

“Stress seems to bring the best out in Baylor MBA s,” said Khurram Baloche, Lockstep 3 student from Pakistan. “After we met with a group of executives from AA.com, the direction of the project changed drastically. This helped us gain confidence that we could produce great recommendations despite the time crunch and limitations – which is why this was a great project.”

DURING THE COURSE OF THE SEMESTER, MBA STUDENTS DEDICATED HOURS TO ANALYZING RESEARCH, ORGANIZING IDEAS AND REHEARSING PRESENTATIONS FOR THE FOCUS FIRM PROJECT.

Prior to giving the final presentation to executives of AA.com, Lockstep 3 MBA students worked almost exclusively on the project to show AA.com how it could better serve its loyal customer base and expand its market position as the premier option for online travel arrangements.

“Stress seems to bring the best out in Baylor MBA’s,” said Khurram Baloche, Eockstep 3 student from Pakistan. “After we met with a group of executives from AA.com, the direction of the project changed drastically. This helped us gain confidence that we could produce great recommendations despite the time crunch and limitations – which is why this was a great project.”

Each semester, one company is selected as the Focus Firm to be evaluated by MBA students. Lockstep 1 and 2 students participate in a case Competition during the first week of the semester. This early analysis provides the foundation for Lockstep 3 students, who study the company in-depth throughout the semester. Each Focus Firm project is structured differently to best benefit the participating company. In Fall 2002, the AA.com project concentrated on marketing issues, including website analysis, customer service, customer relationship management (CRM), and marketing communications.

“We’re in a very competitive industry and we’re always looking for information relative to the competition and customer expectations,” said Linda Carlson, Director of AA.com Marketing and Customer Service. “When Baylor came to us with a proposal, which was basically a consulting opportunity, we jumped at the chance. Plus, we know first-hand the quality of the Baylor MBA program and were confident that the project would be worthwhile.”

“The Focus Firm experience allows our students to have direct contact with company managers and executives,” explained Dr. Mark Dunn, professor of marketing who coordinates the AA.com Focus Firm project. “This discussion with executives provides a hands-on look into the day-to-day life of the Focus Firm. Being able to work with a large, well-known brand such as AA.com, and in a time when the airline industry is facing great challenges, was an excellent experience for Baylor MBA students.”

One of the memorable meetings with AA.com for Ella Gaumer, Lockstep 3 students from California, was meeting the Vice President of Marketing for American Airlines, Frank DiNuzzo. “Because of his high level of experience, we gained clear understanding of the entire picture of marketing, not just the website.”

A team of MBA students analyzed the website, specifically studying the layout and language, the help/tutorial functions and services provided on the site and provided recommendations to create a more enjoyable user experience. As part of the website analysis, students developed a GAP analysis comparing AA.com to its primary competitors.

“The Focus Firm team had a fresh perspective and provided insights that generated a lot of discussion among the AA.com managers,” said Robert Keim, Manager of AA.com Online Marketing and Public Relations. “Several of the team’s recommendations will likely be incorporated into AA.com site enhancement in the coming year.”

While working on the GAP analysis, Sheila Etonga, Lockstep 3 student from Cameroon, recognized the importance of analyzing the airline industry at this time. “Their constant struggle to survive made the Focus Firm project on the airline industry even more practical than other projects. Also, because the Focus Firm project involved an industry in which we all had experience, it made relating to this industry easy, and recommendations were easier to formulate.”

Students participating in the CRM analysis of AA.com are also part of the CRM concentration within the MBA program, which allowed them to bring a specialized perspective to the project. These students suggested the AA.com website should be designed so customers tell AA.com more about their personal preferences, preferred destinations and flight specifics which would help AA.com build a more personal relationship with its customers. The students also included in their CRM recommendations that the information collected on the AA.com website needs to be available to customer service agents in call centers to further customize the relationship between AA.com and its customers.

Another valuable deliverable provided by MBA students for AA.com was suggestions for improving customer service. They stressed the need for American Airlines and AA.com to work together to increase customer convenience through new and added website features combined with innovative airline services. While recognizing the need for airlines to cut costs, the students warned that reducing customer service may improve short term operating expenses, but the damaging impact from decreased customer satisfaction would result in increased marketing expenses to replace lost customers.

Lastly, the final group proposed a promotional strategy for reaching two distinct market segments: the business traveler and the leisure traveler. According to the MBA students, AA.com represents an important strategic and tactical marketing tool that should be used as a vehicle to deliver increased service to consumers at a relatively low cost.

Copyright Baylor University, Hankamer School of Business Spring 2003

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